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Some 10% of the UK population are affected by dyslexia. But many people don’t actually understand what it is and how people can be affected by it. This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week in the UK and the theme is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’, so today we would like to help you to understand what dyslexia is.


What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects the ability to learn to read and spell. It often runs in families and stems from a difficulty in processing the sounds in words.

A formal definition of dyslexia was recommended by Sir Jim Rose in an independent report: Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties which was agreed by the Department for Education in 2009. 

It found that dyslexia:

  • affects the ability to learn to read and spell
  • involves difficulties in dealing with the sounds of words, which makes it especially hard to learn to use phonics to read words
  • can affect short-term memory and speed of recalling names
  • can sometimes co-occur with other kinds of difficulties, for example with maths or with co-ordination (but not always)


Does everyone experience dyslexia in the same way?

Dyslexia is not the same for everyone. It can be mild or severe, can vary depending on other strengths, or difficulties, and on the kind of support and encouragement that is given at school, at home and at work.

People with dyslexia often have strengths in reasoning, in visual and creative fields; dyslexia is not related to general intelligence; and is not the result of visual difficulties.

Many people learn strategies to manage the effects of dyslexia, but it does not go away and its effects may be felt in new situations or in times of stress.

People with dyslexia often, but do not always, show characteristics of other specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder or dyscalculia.


What causes dyslexia?

There is strong evidence that dyslexia runs in families: if someone in a family is dyslexic, then it is very likely that other members of the family are dyslexic to some degree.

However, genetics is only part of the story: many other factors make a difference to the overall picture. There are genes that will increase or decrease the risk for dyslexia, but that risk will be affected by many other things, including the effects of teaching and the effects of other genes.


What is the best approach to dyslexia?

Understanding and access to the right sources of support are key for anyone who may have dyslexia. With the right support, strategies to overcome the difficulties associated with dyslexia can be learnt and dyslexia need not be a barrier to achievement.


Is dyslexia recognised by schools?

We have come a long way since the days when people living with dyslexia were often wrongly labelled as ‘slow’, ‘thick’ or ‘lazy’, with school reports warning parents not to expect much from their child. Today, schools have a duty to provide SEN Support where a child or young person’s learning difficulty, including dyslexia, causes them to learn at a slower pace than their peers.


What are the signs of dyslexia?

Children can display signs of dyslexia from an early age - as young as 3 or 4 years old - but it is usually not formally identified until the age of 6 or 7.  Here are some of the signs for different age groups:


Signs of dyslexia in children from 7-11

  • Seems bright in some ways but unexpectedly struggles in others
  • Other members of the family have similar difficulties
  • Has problems carrying out three instructions in sequence
  • Struggles to learn sequences such as days of the week or the alphabet
  • Is a slow reader or makes unexpected errors when reading aloud
  • Often reads a word, then fails to recognise it further down the page
  • Struggles to remember what has been read
  • Puts letters and numbers the wrong way: for example, 15 for 51, b for d or “was” for “saw”
  • Has poor handwriting and/or struggles to hold the pen/pencil correctly and/or learn cursive writing
  • Spells a word several different ways
  • Appears to have poor concentration
  • Struggles with mental arithmetic or learning times tables
  • Seems to struggle with maths and/or understanding the terminology in maths: for example, knowing when to add, subtract or multiply
  • Has difficulties understanding time and tense
  • Confuses left and right
  • Can answer questions orally but has difficulties writing the answer down
  • Has trouble learning nursery rhymes or songs
  • Struggles with phonics and learning the letter-to-sound rules
  • Seems to get frustrated or suffers unduly with stress and/or low self-esteem
  • Struggles to copy information down when reading from the board
  • Needs an unexpected amount of support with homework and struggles to get it done on time
  • Is excessively tired after a day at school


Signs of dyslexia in ages 12 to adult

  • Difficulties taking notes, planning and writing essays, letters or reports
  • Struggles with reading and understanding new terminology
  • Quality of work is erratic
  • Difficulties revising for examinations
  • Struggles to communicate knowledge and understanding in exams
  • Feels that the effort put in does not reflect performance or results
  • Forgets names and factual information, even when familiar
  • Struggles to remember things such as a personal PIN or telephone number
  • Struggles to meet deadlines
  • Struggles with personal organisation (finances/household, arrives at lessons with the wrong books, forgets appointments)
  • Difficulties filling in forms or writing cheques
  • Only reads when necessary and never for pleasure
  • Develops work avoidance tactics to disguise difficulties and/or worries about being promoted/taking professional qualifications
  • Difficulties become exacerbated when under pressure of time.


What next?

Dyslexia is complex and affects people differently and in different ways but hopefully the above has given a brief insight into some of the ways that dyslexia can affect you. If you want to find out more about it or get involved then join our online community on Twitter, on Facebook or call your local Dyslexia Action Learning Centre.


The facts

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects over 6 million people in the UK. Dyslexia is recognised by law and, for many, a diagnosis can be crucial in getting the right help and support.

Research, over the last 40 has years has provided a much clearer picture of dyslexia, its causes and the support which is helpful in managing its effects. A formal definition of dyslexia was agreed by the Department for Education following a review of evidence in 2009 which found: ‘Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling’. This definition is widely recognised today and accepted by Government, the teaching profession, parents and children alike.

Speaking about this, Dr John Rack, Director of Research at Dyslexia Action said: “The Rose Review definition makes it clear that reading and spelling difficulties are linked to underlying abilities in the processing of information about word sounds. It also emphasises that dyslexia is unconnected to IQ and occurs on a continuum, which means that it will vary in severity.”

Despite general consensus on this important definition, there are some challenges to the value and validity of the concept of dyslexia, as previously discussed in the book:  ‘The Dyslexia Debate’[1]. Dr Rack comments: " The issue raised in this book is whether there is value in classifying some of these problems as ‘dyslexia', and others as not'.”

In a bid to resolve this issue, a panel of leading researchers gathered together at Durham University for a two-day discussion and last night spoke of their findings. Presenting the consensus of the panel, Prof Julian Elliott, who co-wrote the ‘Dyslexia Debate’, said that the panel had agreed:

  • There’s a significant proportion of people who struggle to learn to read, up to about 20%
  • The term dyslexia is used for ‘an extremely small number of people’ who are resistant to the best forms of structured educational intervention
  • For those people to become functionally literate we need to put into place various forms of assistive technologies.

Prof Elliott added that the label dyslexia does have an ‘…absolute functional value in saying we really need to do something very special for this very, very tiny proportion of people…’ and  ‘…when we have absolutely exhausted everything we know for those people’.

In answer to a question from the audience about whether dyslexia was under or over diagnosed a member of the panel said that there’s a ‘…very serious problem with estimates of prevalence of dyslexia as they occur on a continuum and exactly where on the continuum you demarcate people is unclear so it’s hard to say whether it’s over diagnosed or under diagnosed’. He went on to say that: ‘it’s fair to say at least 20% of population is at risk of a reading problem but how many of those have dyslexia is unclear’. He added it was difficult to say what percentage of children had difficulty responding because of that continuum.

Dyslexia Action’s response

Dyslexia Action welcomes the contributions of the academic panel and the summary of their conclusions as a useful contribution to developing our knowledge and understanding of dyslexia, and considering the best ways to communicate that.

However, we take issue with the view that only a ‘tiny’ minority of those with difficulties should be viewed as dyslexic – we do not want to see a return to the view that someone can only be called dyslexic when all reasonable attempts to help them have failed!

The panel are recognising the spectrum of difficulties and the fact that some people respond to support better than others.  We agree that more research is needed to understand these differences, but we do not see why the term dyslexia would be used for only a ‘tiny minority’.  Why not, as we do today, continue to recognise that dyslexia varies in severity?

Dr Rack said: “This narrow view of dyslexia would be quite problematic in practice. If you can't be dyslexic until all else has failed, then what are you beforehand? It would not be very easy to use 'at risk of dyslexia' as a way of explaining what your problems are and the things that are helpful in overcoming them."

Whatever academics conclude, Dyslexia Action believes it is still important to consider the views of people with dyslexia and those who work to help them make sense of their differences and difficulties.

Benefits of a diagnosis

A diagnosis can help people to access disability support; ensure they receive reasonable adjustments; and help them to understand why they are struggling more than their peers, which can help to boost confidence and self-esteem.

For instance, being assessed as dyslexic really helped student Ben, 15, regain his confidence. Following specialist support from Dyslexia Action and additional support in school for his dyslexia, Ben began his GCSEs last year on the gifted and talented register in three subjects and in most of the top sets. His Mum Ruth believes he would have failed miserably at school if his dyslexia had not been identified and he had not received specialist support. “Being labelled as dyslexic, gave Ben a reason for why he was struggling, helped him to understand himself more and gave him the confidence to persevere,” said Ruth. “He would have completely switched off and failed at school otherwise.”

Dr Rack added: “We know the term dyslexia can be helpful for many, as it helps people understand their strengths and difficulties; helps them make sense of past struggles and to access the right help and support.

“If the blocks or barriers that are getting in the way of progress can be identified, then focused support can be given to improve things or to find ways around those blocks. An assessment, which can diagnose dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties, is useful therefore to provide reassurance, or to help decide between the different options of support available.”

[1] Julian G. Elliott (Durham University) Elena L. Grigorenko (Yale University), (May 2014) The Dyslexia Debate. 

Dominik Lukes


At the end of July, Microsoft released a new version of the operating system that’s running most of the world’s computer. It is called Windows 10.

Windows 10

Microsoft received much criticism because of the confusing interface of Windows 8 and this version fixes many of the biggest issues. The interface of Windows 10 is somewhere between Windows 7 and 8 – this means it will be familiar to users coming from either. Microsoft also promised that it will continue improving it in future updates without waiting for another big release.

But what’s interesting for us is what Windows 10 does for people with dyslexia and related difficulties. Microsoft did not introduce any new ‘accessibility’ features but many of its key improvements, will make Windows 10 more accessible for everyone.

Note: This post only focuses on new features relevant to users with additional needs. You can read more about all the new features in other places on the web.

Here's an overview of this post in a mind map

Windows 10 and dyslexia

Cortana: Key accessibility feature

Most people have heard of Apple’s Siri – a speech interface to your iPhone. Google also lets you speak to your Android phone. With Windows 10, you can now speak to your computer.

In fact, the Cortana search box saying “Ask my anything” with a microphone next to it may be the first thing you’ll see. 


Microsoft’s Siri is called Cortana and you’ll get answers or reactions when you say things like:

  • Hey Cortana, remind me to leave for a doctor’s appointment in 1 hour.
  • Hey Cortana, what is 5 Euros in Pounds (or 5 Celsius in Farenheit or 2 inches in centimetres)?
  • Hey Cortana, what is 54 divided by 32 (or square root of 345 or what percent is 50 of 200)?
  • Hey Cortana, define accessibility? (will give you a dictionary definition)
  • Hey Cortana, what films are showing in Norwich?
  • Hey Cortana, how tall is Barack Obama? (will give you the answer)
  • Hey Cortana, launch Word.
  • Hey Cortana, what is the formula for circumference of the circle? (will do an online search using

As you see, Cortana is a really powerful way to help you get organised on your computer. The reminders and maths features could make a real difference.

Cortana’s not perfect but for people who may struggle with things like spelling it is very powerful. And we can expect it to only get better.

If you don’t want to say Hey Cortana all the time, you can launch the interface by clicking on the microphone in the search box or typing the keyboard shortcut WindowKey + C

Task view

Task view

In previous versions of Windows, you could switch between open windows using the famous Alt-Tab shortcut. But when you let go, the list of open windows disappears. This meant it wasn’t very useful when you had a lot of windows open at once.

In Windows 10, you have a new command combining Tab with the Win key ( ). This will show you all the open windows at once. But even better, it won’t disappear until you choose one of the windows. You can either click on the one you want, or you can use the Arrow Keys to navigate and hit enter. 


See this post on using keyboard shortcuts

If your hand is already on your mouse (or you forget the shortcut), you can just click on the Task View button next to the Cortana search bar.

Multiple virtual desktops

virtual desktops

Another new way to stay better organized and more focused is virtual desktops. This way, you can separate work and play or different projects you’re working on.

You start in Task View and click the New Desktop button on the right (or hit Ctrl-Win-D). Then, stay in Task View and drag the windows you want to separate into the desktop you want. You can then use Task View to switch between your virtual desktops as well as windows.

new desktop

Read more about using Virtual Desktops.

Action Centre Notifications

Another useful new feature is called Action Centre. Windows can now collect all the reminders and notes from different apps into one area. It’s also the place where you can quickly change settings like turn wifi on and off, or even set Quiet Hours when the computer will not disturb you. This will make it a lot easier to achieve daily tasks.

action centre

Quick Launch Settings and Apps with Search

Many people don’t set the right settings on their machine because it is often difficult to find them in all the different places. In Windows 10, you don’t have to remember where the settings are, just know what you want to change. Then simply search in the search bar and you will be given options.

You can also just hit the Win key and start typing. Search results will appear automatically.

Find settings

For example, if you want to change when your computer goes to sleep, just search for ‘sleep’:

find settings

You will then get a list of options having to do with sleep and the first will be the Sleep settings. The just hit Enter.

PC Sleeps

Launch applications

You can also use this way to open applications. No more hunting through menus or looking for icons on your desktop. Just hit the Win key and type the name of the software you want to open

When it comes up at the top, hit enter.

Word 2010

If the software you want is not the first option, you can either continue typing or use the arrow keys to get to it and then hit Enter.


Search and launch also works in Windows 8 or even Windows 7. But it is much more usable in Windows 10. It is faster and finds more relevant items. You can read more about these in a previous Tech Thursday.

Edge: New web browser with great support for reading

Everybody remembers the bad old days of Internet Explorer. It was so slow and unreliable (although better in the latest versions) that most people who knew how installed either Chrome or Firefox.

The default web browser in Windows 10 is called Edge and it is much faster and supports even the latest web features. But even better, it has three great features that support reading.

Unfortunately, it still does not support plugins, so it’s impossible to install a speak button or a password filler. See here for other suggestions on making your computer speak.

Reading view

reading view

You can simplify a page with lots of text by launching the Readability View. We discussed the ins and outs of distraction-free reading in a previous post.

Share to reading list

read at your leisure

You can click the share button to send the page to a special app called reading list which will save things to read for later.

page annotation

You can even annotate the page you’re on and then save it to OneNote or some other note taking app.

Users who know and like Chrome or Firefox should probably stick with them but Internet Explorer users will see a great improvement in their web browsing.

Note: Edge may not display some old pages correctly (this is most likely to happen with old corporate apps designed for Internet Explorer). For those cases, the old Internet Explorer is still included.

Should you install Windows 10?

As you can see, Windows 10 is likely to improve your productivity and make your machine more accessible. But should you upgrade your existing PC or just wait until you buy a new one? Microsoft wants everybody who can to upgrade and is making the upgrade free until July 2016. So far, there are very few reports of Windows 10 wrecking somebody’s PC. But with any upgrade, there’s a small risk.

On any PC bought in the last 3 years or so, you should see a definitive benefit to running Windows 10. But as always, there’s a small risk that upgrading will break something. It is much smaller with Windows 10 than before, but the risk is still there.

Note: I’ve now installed Windows 10 on a desktop (3 years old) and a laptop (1 year old) and in both cases, the process was smooth and everything worked fine after the upgrade. But your set up may vary. For instance, some of our corporate software is not yet fully compatible.

Unlike in the past, Microsoft will now pester you to install and upgrade the operating system. Here’s a short breakdown of things to consider before you say yes.

Yes, if

  • Have a standard machine bought in the last 3 years
  • Run Windows 8 or 8.1
  • Have backed up all your files
  • You are happy to try new things
  • Don’t use any old or specialised software

Probably, if

  • Run Windows 7
  • Microsoft suggests you should do it
  • Have tested your mission-critical apps on a trial install

Definitely not, if

  • Currently run Windows XP (but you should definitely upgrade to at least Windows 7)
  • Have an old PC (over 5 years)
  • Run a business with mission-critical software that hasn’t been properly tested
  • You don’t like learning new things
  • You don’t feel like you need the new features

The process will take 1-2 hours, so you should also make sure you have some free time. Read more about why you should upgrade to Windows 10.

What should we cover next?

If you’d like to suggest what else this blog can cover, you can add your voice to the roadmap document.

Word document version of this post 

Note: Watch this video before you download and install any free software.

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist





Dyslexia Action Literacy Programme (DALP) Suite of Courses

This suite of online courses will introduce specialist teachers to the Dyslexia Action Literacy Programme (DALP) and it reviews current research on the development of literacy skills through the promotion of independence in language learning.

DALP has been developed over the past three years by the Postgraduate tutor team at Dyslexia Action and in response to the need for a literacy training programme that, through individual placement identification, provides a flexible pathway to accommodate each learner’s literacy profile.

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Why EAA for support staff?

This course provides a journey through the legislative context, the whole school approach and roles and timings critical to the process. The scope of specific learning difficulties is explored and the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) regulations and processes are reviewed.

Exam Access Arrangements

The EAA: Mentored Training for Form 8 Report Writing course reviews the requirements of the latest JCQ Regulations in the context of current legislation, reviews the process for applications for access arrangements, examines relevant case studies and gives practice in the completion of now compulsory JCQ Form 8 reports in support of Examination Access Arrangements requests


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